On the Prison Attack in Niger

On June 1, violence occurred at a prison in Niamey, Niger. Initial, and partly conflicting, reports suggested that the violence came either from inmates or from external attackers, but the consensus now seems to be that inmates were responsible. Perhaps three or four inmates held on terrorism charges attacked guards at the prison, some reports say. AP has reported that 22 prisoners escaped during the incident.

While some news outlets initially blamed the Mali-centric Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) for the attack, suspicion now centers on the Nigeria-centric Boko Haram sect. Some accounts implicate both Boko Haram and the Islamist coalition that controlled parts of northern Mali in 2012-early 2013; one of the escapees, AP reported, was a member of Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

If we assume that Boko Haram was involved, there are three basic points I would make:

  1. Reports of Boko Haram operating in Niger are not unprecedented. News outlets have in the past reported suspicions of Boko Haram activity in Niger, such as the arrest of suspected Boko Haram members in Diffa, Niger in early 2012. Some analysts have posited an increasing presence of Boko Haram in Niger.
  2. As always, I think it is important to weigh evidence carefully. A moment like the present, when conflicting theories and reported information are swirling, reminds us that the story that gels later – “Boko Haram attacked a prison in Niger to free AQIM members” – can mask ambiguities and uncertainties about what really happened in a given incident. 
  3. Prison breaks have been an important part of Boko Haram’s approach inside Nigeria. The attacks serve to free imprisoned sect members, but also possibly as an opportunity to recruit other convicts. A prison break near Cameroon in March of this year underscored the possibility that Boko Haram might employ this tactic in Nigeria’s neighbors. As we strive to discern what really happened in Niamey, the past pattern of prison breaks in Nigeria casts its shadow over this incident – and highlights the cycles of violence that may take hold when Boko Haram perceives itself as a victim of state authorities, be they Nigerian or non-Nigerian.

Nigeria: Military Campaigns, Amnesty Talk, Security Sector Reform, and Boko Haram

As I started to articulate in this post, the Nigerian government’s response to the militant sect Boko Haram has often seemed ad hoc – and, I will add here, cyclical. The cycle involves (a) military crackdowns, (b) talk about security sector reform, and (c) talk of “amnesty” for Boko Haram fighters. Or maybe the word “cyclical” is inappropriate at the present moment, when all three elements are in play.

Following the imposition of a state of emergency on several states on May 14, Nigeria launched a new military offensive on May 15. The campaign has included raids, arrests, air raids, and the destruction of camps. The offensive has been particularly intense in Maiduguri, a northeastern city that has been an epicenter of Boko Haram’s activities. The Nigerian military has stated that this operation has been carefully planned and may last for quite some time. VOA has an interesting piece on how the Nigerian military’s training and experiences do and don’t prepare it for the experience of fighting a guerrilla war.

How does this offensive’s intensity relate to the amnesty that Nigerian elites debated in April? Perhaps the offensive is meant to serve as the “stick” pushing Boko Haram fighters toward the “carrot” of amnesty. The government has not abandoned the idea of amnesty. In an interesting move, the administration ordered the release of Boko Haram-affiliated women and children prisoners earlier this month – their release had been one of Boko Haram’s preconditions for talks. More here. How will the government follow up on this move?

Meanwhile, the military offensive and amnesty talk (insofar as amnesty talk calls attention to addressing root causes of Boko Haram’s violence) raise a third issue: security sector reform. While the military campaign and the amnesty proposal are Nigerian-generated ideas, talk of security sector reform often comes from the outside – in one recent and notable example, for US Secretary of State John Kerry. In addition to the human rights issues posed by soldiers’ abuses of civilians, these abuses seem to exacerbate the conflict between the government and Boko Haram, suggesting that security sector reform will need to be part of any sustainable solution. But serious demonstrations of accountability for soldiers have not yet taken place.

Military operations, amnesty, and security sector reform may all, indeed, be ingredients in a sustainable solution. The problem I see is that these components do not seem to work together. Moreover, talk of amnesty and talk of security sector reform have not yet been effectively translated into action. Until the government can pursue these different aims in a coordinated and efficacious manner, the de facto policy appears likely to remain crackdowns (with rising and falling intensity) accompanied by inconclusive efforts to promote political solutions.

Nigeria’s Opposition: Amid Unification at the Top, Potential for Fragmentation in the Middle

In the first half of 2013, major Nigerian opposition parties have initiated a merger in hopes of defeating the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 national elections. The PDP has won every presidential election and swept most legislative and gubernatorial contests since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. The new opposition alliance is called the All Progressives Congress (APC). This month, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), two parties with strength in the north, formally joined the APC, which also includes the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), whose political strength lies in the southwest. The APC could be the most serious challenger the PDP has yet seen.

But this report from Niger State, in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” caught my eye:

A major crisis may be rocking the Niger State chapter of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) as two factions of the party have emerged with each claiming to be in a merger talk with the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC).

One of the factions led by a former member of the State House of Assembly, Afiniki Dauda, who claimed to be the interim chairman of the party in the state, had last week at a press conference in Minna appealed to all the party members to forget their grievances so as to ensure that the merger talk with the other political parties went ahead without any hitches.

But Tuesday in Minna, another faction led by the former Chairman of the party, Hajiya Jumai A. Mohammed accompanied by two other State Zonal Chairmen, Samaila Yusuf, and Tanimu Yusuf, at a press conference, described the Afiniki-led interim committee as illegal and lacking in both legal and moral basis.

The story makes me wonder whether opposition parties’ efforts at unification create incentives for middle-tier leaders to break ranks, launch disputes, or otherwise position themselves within a shifting political order. Pre-existing leadership struggles, moreover, could be exacerbated by speculation that the opposition might have a chance at taking national power. Worth recalling here is that the CPC is itself in many respects a breakaway faction of the ANPP, making the CPC-ANPP rapprochement under the APC banner seem a bit tenuous.

As the APC sets its sights on taking out the PDP, in other words, the new alliance will face potentially destructive fights within its own tent. It will be important to see if Niger State’s experience is replicated elsewhere.

Akhdari: A Jurisprudential Text Used in Northern Nigeria

In Northern Nigeria, many Muslims seek religious instruction to learn about the tenets and practices of their faith. In the “traditional” curriculum (the word “tradition” can be problematic, for example if it implies that systems are static, but I use it as a placeholder sometimes), Muslim children and young adults begin by memorizing part or all of the Qur’an. They typically move next into a series of jurisprudential texts from the Maliki School, one of the four main legal schools in Sunni Islam. The Maliki School is widespread in North and West Africa and takes its name from Imam Malik ibn Anas (d. 795), who lived in Medina and was one of the Successors of the Successors (i.e., the third generation of Muslims).

The Maliki texts that many Northern Nigerian Muslims read are summaries or manuals. They focus on issues like the details of how to perform ablutions before prayer. These texts, in the sequence they are typically read, progress in complexity and length. The first Maliki text in the “traditional” sequence is called Mukhtasar al Akhdari fi al ‘Ibadat ‘ala Madhhab al Imam Malik (Arabic: Akhdari’s Summary of Worship Practices According to the Legal School of Imam Malik). It was authored by Shaykh ‘Abd al Rahman al Akhdari (d. 1585). The text is known as Akhdari for short. The version here (Arabic, .pdf) is 19 pages, which may seem short – fitting for an introductory text, though I hope you will keep in mind that students would typically read this text together with a teacher, and that the text might spur conversations, meaning that the total time to study and master the text might be longer than its page length would lead one to expect.

Akhdari opens with an introductory section on faith and ethical behavior, before moving through the following sections: (a) purity; (b) ablutions with sand; (c) menstruation; (d) childbirth; (e) times of prayer; (f) conditions of prayer; and (g) negligence (i.e., during prayer). Akhdari focuses on prayer, in other words, as a core ritual duty of the individual.

I hope this short treatment of Akhdari has provided some background on what many Northern Nigerian Muslims read. In the media and even in academia, we hear a lot of ideological chatter about what such texts mean – “these texts represent rote memorization and the evils of the ‘madrasa’ system” or “these texts represent a living tradition that evil modernists have scorned.” My aim here is not to engage that ideological chatter, but simply to give you a snapshot into what these kinds of texts are about.

Information on Niger’s Food Crisis

Via Reuters, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (view the latest Niger report here, in French .pdf – I could not find the English version) says that around 800,000 people in Niger will need food aid between now and the summer. Niger faces cyclical food crises – famines in 2005 and 2011 were particularly bad – meaning that the challenges are both short- and long-term. This year, elevated cereals prices and Malian refugees are contributing to the crisis. From Reuters:

[OCHA] cited problems with supplying food to markets in some areas, such as the northern mining regixon of Arlit and Tahoua in central Niger and Tillabery in the west, which had driven up cereals prices.

Recurrent shortages in recent years have forced pastoralists to sell livestock, including valuable young females normally kept for breeding, reducing their resistance to food shocks.

The presence of some 60,000 refugees from Mali – where a French-led international mission has battled Islamist rebels since January – has exacerbated the food shortages in Tillabery [map] and Tahoua [map], OCHA has said.

The Famine Early Warning System Network’s Food Security Outlook (.pdf) for Niger gives further detail on the rise in cereals prices. From p. 1:

Increasing millet and maize prices, already well above average in April, will overshoot seasonal norms between now and the height of the lean season and the end of
Ramadan in late August due to market disruptions
triggered by last year’s floods in Nigeria. Central and
Eastern Niger will be most affected.

P. 7 of FEWS Net’s outlook, which lists factors that could affect food security, is worth reading. Notably, they list the elections in Mali (scheduled for July) and conflict in Nigeria as possible risks.

The World Food Programme has more (.pdf). An important paragraph from p. 2:

Close monitoring of food markets and the food security situation is necessary. There are indications of recent decreases in the terms of trade of pastoralists. In March, the terms of trade between goat and millet reached alert levels with a goat trading for much less than 100 kg of millet, a threshold indicative of inadequate purchasing power for pastoralists.

Available casual labour opportunities and incomes
generated by cash crops (horticulture and onions) so
far contain the deterioration of the purchasing power
among other livelihood groups. As the lean season
reaches its peak in July-September, further increases
in cereal prices will reduce vulnerable households’
economic access to food.

As far as the solutions that Niger and various aid agencies are seeking, readers may find the following resources helpful:

  • IRIN on President Mahamadou Issoufou’s $2 billion Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens initiative.
  • WFP on Norway’s donations.

Africa Blog Roundup: Algeria, Somalia, Michel Djotodia, South Sudan, and More

The Moor Next Door: “Comments on Algeria.”

Baobab has a video analysis of the London conference on Somalia.

Missed this during my hiatus in April, but it’s still relevant: Louisa Lombard‘s biography of Michel Djotodia, the rebel-turned-leader of the Central African Republic.

Amb. John Campbell: “What Next for Nigeria’s Oil Patch?”

Dibussi Tande: “President [Paul] Biya [of Cameroon] Appoints Thirty Senators.”

Roving Bandit: “So What Exactly Just Happened to the Economy of South Sudan?”

Via Amb. David Shinn, the Spring 2013 bulletin of the Sudan Studies Association (.pdf).

Africa News Roundup: Mali Suicide Bombings, Imouraren, Eritrea, and More

Reuters:

At least five suicide bombers died in northern Mali on Friday in attacks aimed at Malian and Nigerien troops which failed to inflict serious casualties on their targets, a spokesman for Mali’s army said.

One of the towns hit was Gossi, the furthest south al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels have struck in a guerrilla war launched against Malian and regional forces since the rebels were driven from their former strongholds in a French-led offensive this year.

BBC:

Doctors have closed the main hospital in Nigeria’s north-eastern city of Maiduguri in protest at alleged police assaults on staff and patients.

They say officers became angry because the hospital mortuary was too full to take the bodies of colleagues killed by suspected Islamist militants.

One doctor told the BBC they would not reopen the hospital to new patients until the government provided them with security to do their work in safety.

Sudan Tribune: “Sudan Approves 22% Pay Raise for Military.”

IRIN: “Understanding the Causes of Violent Extremism in West Africa.”

VOA: “[Central African Republic] Rebels Accused of Major Rights Violations.”

RFI (French): “Areva: The Imouraren Uranium Mine Will Be Operational in Summer 2015, the President of Niger Hopes.”

Amnesty International: “Eritrea: Rampant Repression Twenty Years after Independence.”

Human Rights Watch: “Senegal: Chadian Blogger Expelled.”

Nigeria: Shettima Ali Monguno, Boko Haram, Oil, and Amnesty

Shettima Ali Monguno (b. 1926), of Borno State, is a former oil minister. On Friday May 3, gunmen kidnapped Monguno at Mafoni mosque in Maiduguri after congregational prayers. An account of the kidnapping, which includes a biography of Monguno, is here.

Maiduguri is the epicenter of violence associated with the Muslim sect Boko Haram. Most observers suspect Boko Haram of organizing the kidnapping. Boko Haram showed relatively little inclination toward kidnapping for much of the period since its latest guerrilla campaign began in 2010, but the sect appears to have turned more systematically to kidnappings in recent months, partly in order to obtain ransom payments.

Monguno was released yesterday, possibly after a payment anonymously reported as some $318,000. Notably, this amount is much less than the $3 million ransom that Boko Haram reportedly received for the release of a French family that had been kidnapped in Cameroon.

I want to make two points in this post. First, I do not think the kidnapping of Monguno signals a growing threat from Boko Haram to Nigeria’s oil industry. Monguno served as oil minister from 1972-1975 and is currently retired; my conjecture is that the kidnappers targeted him because he is a prominent northeasterner, because they hoped to obtain a ransom, and possibly because he is chairman of the Borno Elders Forum. I do not believe the kidnappers seized him a message to the oil industry. It is always possible that Boko Haram’s activities will spread into the far south, and several suspected members of the sect were arrested in Lagos in March, but I would still at this point be surprised to see Boko Haram attacks in the Niger Delta.

Second, I do think the kidnapping further complicates the politics surrounding efforts to create an amnesty program for Boko Haram. President Goodluck Jonathan’s Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, inaugurated April 24, has already caused controversy. Monguno’s kidnapping may weaken some Nigerians’ hopes that amnesty is possible. One member of the Northern Elders Forum told the press that Monguno’s kidnapping represented an effort to sabotage plans for amnesty. While the committee will undoubtedly be heartened by Monguno’s release, the prospect of further kidnappings and ransom payments casts a shadow over the committee’s ongoing deliberations, and may even scare individual members. In my view some form of dialogue will be necessary to end the Boko Haram crisis, but movement toward dialogue faces daunting political and security barriers.

Africa Blog/Reports Roundup: Somalia Famine, Mali Elections, Baga, and More

Famine Early Warning Systems Network (.pdf): “Mortality Among Populations of Southern and Central Somalia Affected by Severe Food Insecurity and Famine during 2010-2012.”

Africa Research Institute: “After Boroma: Consensus, representation and parliament in Somaliland.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Toward an Economic Recovery in Somalia.”

Bruce Whitehouse: “Why Mali Won’t Be Ready for July Elections.”

AFP:

Senegal and Chad signed an agreement on Friday to allow special tribunal judges to carry out investigations in Chad into former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre, ahead of his trial for war crimes.
Habre’s prosecution, delayed for years by Senegal where he has lived since being ousted in 1990, will set a historic precedent as until now African leaders accused of atrocities have only been tried in international courts.

Financial Times:

“A French writer from Algeria,” was how a tight-lipped Albert Camus characterised himself in October 1957 on accepting his nomination as the second-youngest winner of the Nobel prize in literature. These simple words concealed a churning heart. The normally voluble Camus, then 43, was in the midst of a period of self-imposed silence.

After years of championing equal rights for Arabs in his native Algeria, Camus, the son of a Pied-Noir family descended from European settlers, found himself in the uncomfortable position of rejecting any notion of his homeland gaining independence from France.

Jacques Enaudeau: “In Search of the ‘African Middle Class’.”

Baobab: “Djibouti’s Development: Location, Location, Location.” A video with a link to a report.

Africa in DC: “Anti-Federalism, Colonial Nostalgia, and Development in Nigeria: Lagos State Governor at SAIS.”

Alkasim Abdulkadir: “After Baga, JTF Lost in a Maze of Rocks and Hard Places.”

Al Jazeera: “Jailed Boko Haram Members Seek Pardon from Nigeria.”